Saratoga Springs

Cost of adding ‘at large’ City Council members discussed

Voters to decide on changes to city charter

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Questions over the cost of adding two at-large City Council members dominated much of Thursday’s Charter Review Commission meeting.

Appointing the at-large members without benefits would cost the city a total of roughly $31,000, whereas the most expensive insurance plan and other benefits would set the city back around $81,000.

“No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head to run for [city offices],” Commissioner of Accounts John Franck said. “I don’t think anyone is doing it for the money at this point.”

While the referendum would propose amendments and reforms to the city’s commission form of government, it would not, as 2017’s referendum proposed, fundamentally alter the government’s structure.

The 2017 referendum, which proposed transitioning the city from its current mayor-and-commissioners governmental system to one run by an appointed city manager, lost by 10 votes once absentee ballots were counted.

According to Vincent DeLeonardis, chairman of the Charter Review Commission, in one question, voters will be asked whether to approve several amendments to the charter. In a second, they will also be asked whether to add two new “at large” City Council members.

Under the proposal, the two new at-large members would differ from their colleagues in that they would only serve on the City Council. The current commissioners also serve as the heads of various city departments. 

Voters would decide on the proposals in steps, with the language stating:

  1. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be amended as proposed by the 2018 Charter Review Commission?
  2. Shall the Saratoga Springs City Charter be further amended to provide for two (2) additional City Council members whose authority shall be legislative only?

However, the at-large proposal can only be enacted if the first proposal is approved by a majority of voters. Clarification of these points was a topic at Thursday’s meeting, particularly regarding the cost of adding new City Council members.

DeLeonardis said that the vote has to be in two steps in accordance with state law, since the proposed expansion of the City Council is outside the scope of a charter amendment referendum.

Mike Sharp, the city’s deputy commissioner of finance, noted that the cost of the two additional members would depend on whether they were to receive full benefits or not, but that ultimately, their salaries would be up to the City Council, which would have to hold a public hearing on compensation for the new positions or put the matter up for another referendum. 

Members of the committee acknowledged the public awareness campaign will be difficult, given the complicated nature of the referendum and word-of-mouth assumptions from previous attempts to change city government. 

The basic amendments include removing elected officials’ salaries from the charter, shifting responsibilities {?} from the mayor’s office and requiring unanimous approval from the council on appointments to key city positions and land-use boards. 

Only two residents spoke at the end of the meeting, both in favor of the new [amendments?] referendum, but they voiced concerns that the public is misinformed, especially on the main difference between 2017’s proposal and that of 2018, where the  amendments would not fundamentally alter the commission structure.

“For those who are less well-versed in charters, you can get that basic information,” Sharp said of the upcoming information campaign during the meeting. “As we have more events and other questions, we’ll try to address them as best we can.” 

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Jake Lahut at [email protected] or @JakeLahut on Twitter.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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